Age Was an Asset in Boccie Ball Tournament

The official rules came from Rome, but then the Founders merged them with some of their own. Heather Dubin

    In the world of sports, youth has its cachet; however, when it comes to boccie, seniority, and all its wisdom, has its perks. The Founders, a boccie ball team of 59 to 88-year-old men, took the Southampton Boccie League championship Sept. 18 on the court at North Sea Park. Their opponents, Southampton United, a much younger team, 37 to 61 years old, were defeated 12-6 in the first game, and again, 12-6 in the final deciding match.
    The overcast day with its slight fall chill did not deter the crowd’s presence or their enthusiasm. Clustered at the end of the court, which is about 16 feet long, the players took turns tossing balls down the trimmed turf in an attempt to get as close as possible to the pallino, a smaller ball thrown down the court at the start of the game. In Italian, boccie means to kiss, and the object of the game is to accumulate points by being closest to the pallino.
    You get two points if your ball touches, or kisses, the pallino. “We put a dollar bill through the two balls, if it goes through, it’s a no go, if not, then you get the points,” said Rich Van Houten of the winning team. Such a feat was achieved only twice this season.
    “Nice shot, John,” yelled a man sitting in the front row of the bleachers as a member of the Southampton United threw a ball that neared the pallino. Cries of “Oh no,” echoed through the crowd as a green ball smashed into a red one and knocked it away from the prize, and when a green ball hit the wall, “Aws” flooded the court. The audience burst into applause after a green ball rolled up next to the pallino, putting the Founders firmly ahead of the game. “Sal, they’re good,” said the same heckler to a member of Southampton United. Woefully, Sal Ficara Jr. replied, “We don’t have a chance.”
    The idea for a boccie league originated with Steve Marciw, who said, “I remember playing and watching my parents and grandparents play.” He then approached Chris Nuzzi, a Southampton Town councilman, to get the green light. Mr. Nuzzi discussed it with the town board, and, according to Mr. Marciw, the town offered to build some courts for the league, on one condition, Mr. Nuzzi told Mr. Marciw, “ ‘You run the league, and the town doesn’t have anything to do with it.’ ” Mr. Marciw agreed and enlisted the help of his friend Sal Ficara Sr., a fellow boccie aficionado who has played the game with him at parties for years.
    In 2008 they started with eight teams, and this year there were 24 teams and 138 players. “This is the first time any team has repeated the championship,” said Mr. Marciw, who officiated at the event via microphone wearing a Boston Red Sox baseball cap. 
    The Founders lost the championship the first season, but have been victorious two years in a row. “We don’t like losing,” said Saverio Naclerio, the only Italian Founder. The former Pork  Store owner hails from Naples and still retains a strong accent. “I played boccie when I was younger in Italy. There are different rules here. We create more of them.”
    Charlie Mottern, one of the Founders, who is also the league’s treasurer, learned boccie after he married his Italian wife. “Her relatives taught me on a clay court in the backyard,” he said. “It’s a great thing.”
    When Ron Forman was in his 20s, he lived on Thompson Street, near Prince Street in Manhattan’s Little Italy. He saw the men in his neighborhood playing boccie down the street. “Finally on a Saturday one of the men asked me, ‘Why don’t you play?’ ” said Forman. They taught him the game, but he had stopped playing until this summer, when he joined the Founders.
    Mr. Van Houton, another member of the team, was turned onto the game by Mr. Marciw. “We developed the league, and I love it,” he said. Mr. Van Houten plays in Florida during the winter, and runs a league there. “It’s great to be on the winning team,” he said.
    The oldest member of the Founders,  the elder Ficara began playing boccie after his neighbor gave him a boccie set, and let him use his backyard court.  Ficara taught his kids, and two of his sons are on the Southampton United team. Involved with starting the league,  Ficara worked with  Marciw to secure four courts at the park. When asked how he felt about winning the championship  Ficara Sr. said, “I’m getting used to it.”
    “It’s a simple game and a lot of fun,” he said. “We made our own rules, and try to make it as simple as possible. When we have a discrepancy, no one but an official is on the court.”  Naclerio said they play more by the original rules in Naples. “They think they are the only rules.” The group decided to merge the Italian rules and the American ones. “We got the official rules from Rome. We read them, and then we decided which ones we wanted to adopt,”  Van Houten said.
    The concluding shot of the day was made by Ficara Sr., who earned the last two points. “That was the closer,” he said. And after that,  Mottern said he overheard Ficara Jr. say, “My father would say you’ve learned another lesson.”
    When asked how he felt about losing to his dad, Sal Jr. said, “Well, how could we win? They were 13-1 this season. You know how we got here? We didn’t play them all season,” he said.
    Any money raised by the league throughout the season goes back to the community. “What isn’t used for our end-of-season party or mail is contributed to charity. We donated $500 to the scholarship fund for kids for summer camp, S.Y.S. [Southampton Youth Services], and $250 each to two food pantries. There might be more this year because we have a larger group,”  Mottern said.